Avon is on a mission to increase its market penetration, with a focus on reaching and recruiting a younger generation of representatives to market and sell its products.
Starting in 1886 with the ambition of giving women the ability to earn an independent income, Avon pioneered a model of direct selling via local representatives which has grown into a network of 5 million women across more than 50 markets. Think of Avon now and you’ll likely think of the brand’s ‘Avon ladies’, pushing the brand’s products on its behalf in return for a cut of the sale.
But with ecommerce having sky rocketed through the Covid-19 pandemic and consumers able to buy from a multitude of large and small beauty brands at the click of a button, direct selling might seem a little outdated.
However, according to Avon’s chief commercial marketing officer, Alex Long, the business model continues to make sense for the brand.
“We think it’s honestly more relevant and more vibrant than ever,” Long tells Marketing Week. “Look at all of the big trends that you see in the marketplace today around entrepreneurial culture, people setting up their own businesses, the trend in media towards micro influencers. All of these are what direct selling has been doing for years.”
We’re really conscious that there’s a generation of women who may not be as aware of the Avon story, or may see it in a particular way. And some of them haven’t really had an opportunity to work with brands.
Alex Long, Avon
Direct selling data from around the world “absolutely backs that up”, Long adds. In 2019, direct selling was a $180.5bn industry worldwide, encompassing 119.9 million independent representatives, according to the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations.
In Europe alone, industry sales hit $37.9bn. However, while Germany and France rank among the top 10 markets for direct selling, the UK does not. And over the year ending December 2018, Avon’s last financial results filed with Companies House, turnover relating to underlying UK direct selling activities fell from £210.4m to £182.1m, which the business attributed to a -17.6% reduction in its number of UK representatives.
Long acknowledges that there are limitations of the model in terms of reach, also noting that while Avon’s awareness across its mature markets such as the UK and US is very high, the brand has become “a little tired”. This is in direct contrast to Avon’s perception in newer markets like South Africa, he says, where the brand is considered “young and trendy”. In 2018, Avon was voted “coolest makeup brand” as part of South Africa’s Sunday Times Next Generation Awards, for example.
To help counter this problem and increase the brand’s market penetration in the UK, Avon is hoping to recruit a younger generation of digital-savvy representatives to reach a new cohort of consumers.
“Clearly part of this journey is about attracting new consumers and new entrepreneurs to Avon who want to be able to take advantage of the digital selling opportunity,” Long says.
“So we’re really conscious that there’s a generation of women who may not be as aware of the Avon story, or may see it in a particular way. And some of them haven’t really had an opportunity to work with brands.”
Avon has therefore been experimenting with TikTok, making its UK debut on the social media platform last month with a branded hashtag challenge, titled #LiftLockPop. The campaign highlighted the brand’s latest beauty innovation, Unlimited Instant Lift Mascara, using key beauty and lifestyle influencers on the platform.
At the time of launch, Avon said the campaign was designed to “capitalise” on TikTok being “the home of cultural entertainment” and “a new destination for authentic beauty content” to engage a new audience.
“We see things like the TikTok campaign as just a completely new way of us being able to gently create a little bit of shock when people come across Avon,” Long adds. “Maybe it helps to challenge their perception of the brand and see it in a new and much fresher way.”
While Avon’s marketing team will be measuring how overall brand perception, awareness and reach is impacted by the campaign, this first venture onto TikTok is being looked at as a pilot run to establish its potential.
“With the TikTok campaign, there was a degree of ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’,” Long says. “We see the opportunity, it’s relatively underexposed at the moment from brands like ours, and we were just keen to see who we could reach or what the reception would be.”
In time, Avon may become more focused on what exactly it hopes to drive through TikTok. However, initial learnings suggest the #LiftLockPop campaign has been successful in reaching younger consumers at scale, Long says. So far, there are 1,240 videos on the platform using the campaign’s bespoke music, the hashtag has 3.5 billion views, and the hashtag #Avon has 112.1 million views.
“The data from TikTok suggests we’ve really been able to skew to a younger consumer than we normally talk to through our traditional or even our digital media. Over time, we’ll understand what that impact is and how we harness that more successfully,” Long says.
He adds that with the media landscape changing “really quickly”, Avon is trying to be more agile in its approach towards marketing than it has been previously, an ambition which is reflected in this campaign.
“Finding things, reviewing quickly, getting the data and then building a strategy around it is definitely a big part of how we want our operation to unfold.”
Marketing through Covid-19
Like most brands, Avon saw its marketing strategy disrupted by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic around the world. With so little understanding during the early stages of what the pandemic really meant for businesses and consumers and how Avon should respond, Long says he and his team made “some good decisions and some bad decisions” as it tried to adapt to the circumstances.
But overall, the brand decided to double down on its simplification strategy, where it had already been making strides. That strategy looks to be paying dividends, Long adds.
Finding things, reviewing quickly, getting the data and then building a strategy around it is definitely a big part of how we want our operation to unfold.
Alex Long, Avon
“By really maintaining our resilience towards our belief that we need to do better at fewer things, I think that’s really helped us to be clearer to our associate base and ultimately to our representatives and customers about what matters to us and what we should focus on,” he continues.
One thing Avon continues to focus its energy on is its product innovation strategy, which Long says is crucial in bringing the brand’s promise – to support women and democratise beauty – to life.
The brand is continuing to see success in using social listening, alongside traditional customer insights and observing trends in technology, to drive its ideas, and at the beginning of the year launched Adapt, a new skincare range designed specifically to support women through the hormonal effects of perimenopause and menopause.
“We see this as a really huge gap in the marketplace and an insight that fits so well with our overall positioning around supporting women, as we’re able to do that around key points in her life stage,” Long says.
“We think this really encaptures how we’re using our product innovation to get knee deep inside what our consumer needs and improve her life.”
During the pandemic, Avon has also used social listening tools to understand how consumer requirements have changed over the period and adapt its marketing strategy accordingly.
In the early days of Covid, the brand saw an immediate focus on hygiene products and cleaning, which later moved on to conversations around pampering at home. Avon switched up everything from its brochures to its digital selling vehicles to its content marketing strategy to reflect those conversations.How Avon is using social listening to streamline innovation
Looking ahead, Long and his team are trying to understand how the shift from lockdown to a more complicated hybrid phase will impact consumers and their behaviour.
“Will we be back to a roaring 20s where everything is about being out and extreme socialisation? Or has this changed things forever in terms of the way people work and interact?” he wonders.
“We’re trying to navigate as best we can, both as the brand Avon but also as part of the maturing wider group, around what that means and making sure that we are able to support those needs as they develop.”